Is Omicron Even the Same Disease as COVID-19?

Viacheslav Lopatin /
Viacheslav Lopatin /

There’s a new COVID-19 that is apparently not the same thing as the old COVID-19. This is according to John Bell who is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford. He is also the life sciences advisor for the United Kingdom government.

Bell has noted the importance of the fact that the incidence of severe disease and death from this disease has not changed since many in the population got vaccinated. On the BBC Radio 4, Bell said, “The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago — intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely — that is now history in my view and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue.”

But he had this to say about the new Omicron variant that is now spreading so quickly, “The disease does appear to be less severe, and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital. They don’t need high-flow oxygen, the average length of stay is apparently three days, this is not the same disease as we were seeing a year ago.”

Most researchers agree that the Omicron appears to be milder than the Delta variant and it has up to 80% fewer hospitalizations. Those who have the disease and are hospitalized, they are 70% less likely to have to be admitted to the intensive care unit or be put on a ventilator. This is the major difference between the Omicron and the Delta variant. This was shown in a study by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia, believes that the fact that the Omicron cases are less likely to end up in the hospital than people who have the Delta variant could either mean there are inherent differences in the virulence or it could be due to the higher population immunity.

There was another study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh and other experts in Scotland that found similar results. Their study found that the risk of hospitalization was two-thirds less with Omicron than with the Delta variant. But their study also focused on the fact that almost 24,000 Omicron cases in Scotland were predominantly with younger adults ages 20-39. That segment of the population is much less likely to develop a severe case of COVID-19, according to The Associated Press.

The authors of the Scotland study also indicated that the national investigation was one of the first to indicate that Omicron is less likely to result in COVID-19 hospitalization than the Delta variant. They found their results to be encouraging although they said the data was still early.

The British government has made a report that released early data indicating that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is milder than the Delta variant. And, it’s similar to what we’ve all been screaming about…

In the United Kingdom, the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is comparable to the United State’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They found that those who have Omicron are less likely to become severely ill compared to people who contracted the Delta variant.

They believe that more people will have a mild illness with less serious symptoms and this is most likely due to the large number of people in Britain who are either vaccinated or have been previously infected. But they also indicate that it may be due to the fact that Omicron is just intrinsically milder.

Chris Whitty, their Chief Medical Officer, has cautioned the public against too much optimism based on the early signals from South Africa. But he does indicate that Britain’s study has shown that Omicron is usually less severe than the Delta variant.

So maybe John Bell is right…the initial COVID-19 compared to the Omicron may be like apples to oranges.